Google Takes On Microsoft: The Service Strategy

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The Shot Heard Round the Silicon Valley Campus of Google

Every battle needs its rallying cry.

Remember the Alamo.

Once more into the breach, dear friends.”

Every day for the past ten years, Loretta here’s been giving me a large black coffee- except today she gives me a large black coffee and it has sugar in it. A lotta sugar. I just came back to complain.

For Google, that cry began before they were even a whiteboard drawing in some college student’s room. It came when Microsoft responded to the growing threat of Netscape by including Internet Explorer in its Windows operating system for free, thereby destroying the upstart company and its promising future. For every Googler who didn’t cast a wary eye over his shoulder at the Microsoft empire, they were given a wake up call when Internet Explorer, the browser with a near 90% market share at the time, was upgraded. There in the middle of the upgrade was a search box built into the interface that pointed the user directly away from Google and right to the front door of Microsoft.

The Come For Our Cheap Hot Wings Strategy

They say that the best defense is a good offense. Google has built their battle plan around this concept. The theory goes something like this. If Microsoft can use its power to hurt us via its Internet Explorer browser or in other ways, then our Obi Wan Kenobi (for non-nerds: only hope) is to diminish the power of Microsoft and Internet Explorer to the point where it is not strong enough to hurt us.

One of Google’s strategies has been to defend its search engine business by increasing the number of reasons a user would come to the Google web site regardless of any browser settings. Other businesses have used this strategy for a long time. Chucky-e-Cheese Pizza does not try to have the best pizza around. Instead, they get you to come for the video games and shows. Once you are there, you’ll buy the pizza, and you’ll keep coming back. Google has various applications do achieve a similar result. Google Maps, for example, doesn’t make much money for Google, but it ensures that people looking for maps and directions will come running to regardless of where their default search box points. And, while they’re there, they just might click on one of those ad links, and ka-ching!

Other ventures like the image viewer Picasa provide the same kind of loyalty. A user with hundreds of photographs carefully cataloged and shared across their Google provided accounts isn’t likely to stop using Picasa just because someone directed them somehow from the more traditional Google search. In fact, Picasa offers a program that is directly installed on the user’s personal computer. If there ever came a time when Microsoft figured out some sort of nuclear option to shuttle their users away from Google, Google could retaliate by upgrading Picasa and including a counter-strike, like a default install that redirects users back to Google. This strategy is already used somewhat ham handedly by Apple in their iTunes product. Upgrades to iTunes include the QuickTime video player no matter how many times you uninstall it. The latest even come with a new web browser (Safari) that installs just by the user clicking the button that they think does nothing more than make their beloved iTunes better.

The Google Calendar, and Google Reader, are other resources in this vein. They all give users reasons completely unrelated to traditional search functionality to repeatedly visit Google either directly, or through the interface of the product. The acquisition of Youtube added to this list by also ensuring that millions of visitors will visit a Google property while looking for videos. This move allows Google a way to tap into less savvy computer users, the kind who are not likely to subscribe to RSS fees, or use any calendar other than the one their employer threw on their computer.

Perhaps the most successful blow on this front has been Google’s Gmail service, which grew quickly by offering simple but complete email functionality for free, with much more storage than competing email systems. This maneuver caught Microsoft flatfooted at the time. Microsoft was targeting Yahoo Mail back then and worked to match those features, not Google’s. When they looked up, millions of users had Gmail accounts precisely because they did not have to pay for email forwarding, or extra storage space. Now, Google’s installed email base can be counted on to go looking for Google no matter what Microsoft does with its browser. After all, all of those users will still need their email regardless of any Internet Explorer or other upgrades. And, while they are there, Google can always provide a nice easy button to reset that pesky search box back to Google. If that doesn’t work, Google can always suddenly come out with a directly installed email client to “meet customer demand.”

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend Strategy

Google has long supported rival Internet browser Firefox as a way to loosen Microsoft’s grip on the the browser market- which represents the greatest direct threat to Google in a sort of battle by proxy maneuver. Reports put the amount of money the Mozilla Firefox guys get from Google in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Not to mention the occasional support of Google programmers.

By helping support a robust and financially sound free competitor to Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google ensures that Microsoft has to consider additional ramifications when developing “features” for its IE browser. If Firefox makes it easy to switch search engines, or like in the current version, makes it easy to switch on the fly between multiple search engines, then Microsoft would be ill-advised to release a version of IE which makes it difficult to do the same thing.

The recent alliance with is another example of this strategy. By helping Salesforce, Google not only potentially deflects revenues from Microsoft from sales of its CRM offerings, but it also supports another player in the cloud computing space.


While these strategies mark a substantial part of Google’s offensive in its campaign against Microsoft, they are not designed to provide the death blow. For that, Google’s secret weapon lies in the increasingly used phrase “cloud computing.” It is using cloud computing to shift the entire paradigm of computing away from Microsoft’s well established Death Star, the Windows Operating System.

Which brings us to Part 2 of Google’s Battle Plan

This post is part of the series: The Ongoing War between Microsoft and Google

Microsoft and Google are the giants in their fields. Microsoft has the lion’s share of the browser market with Internet Explorer. Google has the search engine over 70% of the world goes to for information. They occupy separate niches. Why does most of the computing world believe they are battling?

  1. Microsoft versus Google - The Battle Lines Are Ever Expanding
  2. Google versus Microsoft - Google’s Strategic Battle Plan - Part 1
  3. Microsoft Versus Google - Microsoft’s Strategic Battle Plan
  4. Google versus Microsoft - Google’s Strategic Battle Plan - Part 2
  5. Microsoft Versus Google - The Battle Lines Are SO Expanding
  6. Microsoft Versus Google - Microsoft Battle Plan - Part 2